6:43 PM EDT, July 18, 2013
WASHINGTON -- Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Baltimore lawmaker and top-ranking Democrat on the often contentious committee have never enjoyed a particularly strong relationship.
And so tensions were already high when Issa, a California Republican, referred to Cummings on Thursday as "a little boy with his hand caught in the cookie jar" during a hearing that quickly captured national attention and prompted Issa to clarify his remarks a few hours later.
But in the end, the incident resulted in one of the more conciliatory public exchanges the two men have had in more than a year.
Issa referred to Cummings, an African-American, as a "little boy" during a hearing on the scandal involving the IRS targeting of conservative groups. "I'm always shocked when the ranking member seems to want to say, like a little boy whose hands [are] caught in a cookie jar, 'What hand? What cookie?' I've never said it leads to the White House," Issa said during the hearing.
Issa later clarified the comment.
"I took a shortcut in how I expressed it," he said. "The ranking member and I enjoy a personal relationship that is by definition strained because of our jobs but not because of how we respect each other. The press, I think, took the use of 'little boy' in a way that would certainly never come out of my thought, much less deliberately out of my mouth. And to the extent that anyone is offended, Mr. Cummings, I certainly do not want it to be you."
Cummings, who could be seen chuckling as Issa described their relationship, spoke next.
"Words can certainly be taken out of context and twisted," Cummings said. "I do appreciate it, and I know you mean that. Like you said, we differ sometimes on our views but at the end of the day, the respect level is still extremely high."
All the talk of respect was a rare display of comity for the two lawmakers, who have battled bitterly since the beginning of last year over a federal gun trafficking program, the IRS scandal and even whether Democrats have been allowed to bring an adequate number of witnesses before the committee.
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